Causeway Coastal Route: One of the Most Beautiful Journeys

Blogs, Derry~Londonderry, Co. Antrim, Experiences, Causeway Coastal Route

Posted by Discover Northern Ireland

Published March 2, 2020

“One of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world” is how Sir Michael Palin described it.

The Gobbins, Islandmagee, County Antrim

The Gobbins, Islandmagee, County Antrim

Voted as the world's "top region to visit in 2018" by Lonely Planet in their annual Best in Travel, the Causeway Coastal Route has received many accolades and compliments over the years, including one from travel documentarian Sir Michael Palin who once described the Coleraine to Derry~Londonderry leg as "one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world".

So whether you're planning to take the Causeway Coastal Route by train, car or on foot, let us inspire you with some of the highlights you'll experience along the way.

Your Causeway Coastal Route Itinerary

From Belfast to the Glens

Start your journey in Belfast and follow the coast road round to Carrickfergus Castle. Besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and French, this Norman castle remains one of the best preserved medieval structures in Ireland and an imposing structure on the coastal landscape.

Then head further north and excite the senses on an exhilarating cliff-face path experience at The Gobbins*. Located on the scenic Islandmagee peninsula, this dramatic and challenging cliff walk offers unparalleled access to the rugged Antrim Coast. It's limited accessibility however, so we recommend checking ahead of arriving that it's suitable.

Exchange coastline for mountains, and travel in-land to explore the unmistakable profile of Slemish Mountain rising above the surrounding plain in County Antrim. Legend has it, this extinct volcano was where Saint Patrick tended sheep for six years after being captured and taken to Ireland. Modern day pilgrims now climb its looped walk to catch the panoramic views from its summit. The ascent can be strenuous, so take heed, however the view makes it particularly worthwhile.

Back on the coastal route, a visit to Glenarm Castle, the ancestral home of the McDonnells, Earls of Antrim, is a must on your causeway short break. With its glorious walled garden and charming tea-room, it's perfect for those who enjoy combining good food with beautiful surroundings.

The Nine Glens of Antrim

Head now for the Glens of Antrim - a mythical landscape, surrounded in ancient history and folklore. Immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery amongst the nine glens, each with its own lyrical name and scenic drive. Glenariff Forest Park is a highlight, set in the ‘Queen of the Glens’, with its bracing walks and stunningly beautiful waterfalls.

Stop in the picturesque towns and villages dotted along the Glen's path for a real taste of local life, including Glenarm, Carnlough, Cushendall and Cushendun - each of which has a distinct story to tell. And look out for the beloved sculpture of ‘Johann’ the goat – a famous Cushendun resident!

From Rathlin Island to the Giant's Causeway

From Cushendun follow the coast road to Ballycastle, where you can hop on the ferry to Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland’s only inhabited off-shore island. There's lots of scenic walking trails to enjoy, and take the opportunity to learn about island life at the Boathouse Visitor Centre. Home to the largest breeding seabird colonies in Europe and RSPB Seabird Centre, birdwatchers and nature lovers will delight in a trip to the island. Or for something different, head for Rathlin West Light which is known locally as the ‘upside down’ lighthouse. We'll not spoil the surprise, but it's definitely one to tick off the list!

For leisurely travellers, a detour in-land to the Dark Hedges is well worth a visit. After gaining fame as a filming location in Games of Thrones®, this beech tree-lined avenue has now become one of Northern Ireland's most iconic landmarks. It's atmospheric and impressive, regardless of the weather, so if you've time definitely mark this on your map.

Back along the coast is another stop for the adrenaline seekers - a cliff-top challenge at the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. Set amidst unrivalled coastal scenery, a 30-metre deep and 20-metre wide chasm is traversed by a rope bridge. Connecting a tiny island with the mainland, this once-temporary structure was built specially by salmon fishermen, and although the rickety rope bridge has recently been replaced with a much sturdier version, it definitely still calls for nerves of steel. Close your eyes, hold your breath... and go for it!

A short distance away, your next must-see destination is Ballintoy. Follow the narrow winding road downhill past the white-washed Ballintoy Parish Church - one of Ireland’s most photographed churches - to discover the picture postcard village of Ballintoy and its harbour, another Game of Thrones® filming location.

Afterwards, head for a stroll along Whitepark Bay, a stunning sandy beach which forms a white arc between two headlands on the Causeway Coast. The picturesque little harbour and hamlet of Portbradden at the western end of the bay, home to the beautiful St. Gobban's Church, is one of the smallest in Ireland.

And then before you know it, you've reached the geological wonder which gives the route its name - the Giant’s Causeway. Sitting at the centre of an Area of Outstanding Beauty and Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, there's a state-of-the-art Visitor Centre, which sets the scene for the main attraction - the distinctive formations of polygonal stones. It's a beautiful walk down to the causeway, paved and accessible for all, or for tired legs there's a shuttle bus which runs regularly between the centre and causeway.

Once you've had your fill of fresh air, head for Bushmills village and distillery. Famous for its whiskey, this is a great stop to enjoy the sights and smells, take in a tasting and relax with a tipple in the 1608 bar. Or head over to the nearby Bushmills Inn, for a relaxing lunch and whiskey chaser!

Heading west out of Bushmills, the coastal route reveals one of the jewels in Northern Ireland's crown, Dunluce Castle. Perched dramatically on the cliffs of the coast, this breathtaking castle ruin has inspired artists and writers through the centuries. Built around 1500 by the local MacQuillan family, it was later seized by the Scottish MacDonnell clan and boasts a tumultuous history. Take some time to immerse yourself in the fascinating history of this castle via the audio-visual tour, which is well worth it.

If golf is your game, then a round at Royal Portrush Golf Club is a must. But make sure to book tee times well in advance - this is a very popular course, and with good reason. Home of The 148th Open and the 8th best course in the world in 2019 according to Golf Digest, there are few that can compare to this impressive links course and its breathtaking views across the North Atlantic Ocean.

Binevenagh and Beyond

Travelling through the beautiful surroundings of Downhill Demesne, a photographic opportunity not be missed is Mussenden Temple. Perched on a cliff edge high above Downhill Beach this historical building, inspired by the Temple of Vesta near Rome, was built as a summer library by Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol. It's a dramatic, romantic view which you won't find anywhere else so don't miss this unique opportunity if you've time.

A short distance away, Binevenagh mountain, with its line of dramatic basalt cliffs dominates the surrounding countryside. Take a detour off the main Causeway Coastal Route and enjoy a scenic drive to the summit where the panoramic views of Roe Valley, the Sperrin Mountains, North Coast and across Lough Foyle to Donegal, are simply breathtaking.

Continuing on to County Londonderry, standing guard to the entrance of Lough Foyle is Magilligan Point. Home to Martello Tower, one of the best preserved towers from the Napoleonic Wars, this is your opportunity to take a stroll along the golden sand dunes of Benone Strand, a many time recipient of the European Blue Flag and Seaside Award.

And then as you reach the end of the coastal route, explore the myths and legends of the scenic Roe Valley area, admire the views from the sculpture of Celtic God of the Sea Manannàn Mac Lir or visit the Leap of the Dog sculpture in nearby Roe Valley Country Park.

The last stop on the Causeway Coastal Route is the ancient city of Derry~Londonderry. There's plenty to do in Northern Ireland's second city, with its numerous attractions and experiences. Try a walking tour of Ireland's only remaining City Walls or a visit to its many landmark sights, including St. Columb’s Cathedral, the beautiful neo-gothic style Guildhall and the contemporary Peace Bridge that curves majestically across the River Foyle. Derry~Londonderry has so much to offer you may find yourself extending your visit for a few more days!

With so much to see along the Causeway Coastal Route, you may want to consider turning your roadtrip into a coastal getaway. From boutique hotels to gorgeous guest houses, cosy B&Bs and stunning self-catering accommodation, the North Coast offers an array of unique places to stay.

*Please check opening times as the Gobbins has seasonal openings.

Discover Northern Ireland

Posted by Discover Northern Ireland

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